Scoring his first hat trick in the professional ranks, Devon Sandoval led New Mexico United to a crucial victory on Saturday night in the club's push for the postseason. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – As New Mexico United’s players and coaching staff passed the time, waiting for a kickoff that had been delayed well past its scheduled start at 7:30 p.m. local time, the urgency of the need to win shifted.
As important as taking three points from its clash with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC was going to be in the big picture with NMU looking to earn back-to-back wins for the first time since July, the focus turned to the people that were just as eagerly waiting for kickoff in the stands.
“When you come here and experience what our fans are in general, especially after an hour-and-a-half delay, you realize that our job is to win games,” said NMU Head Coach Troy Lesesne. “We have to win games, we have to give back to everyone who sticks around.”
And when kickoff finally did arrive after a wait of almost two hours, it didn’t take long for Devon Sandoval to get the party going.
A precisely hit half-volley from the edge of the penalty area that ricocheted in off the right post brought the crowd of 12,112 at Isotopes Park to their feet, opening up a hat trick for the Albuquerque native in a 3-1 victory for the hosts that moved them into eighth place at the end of the Championship’s weekend of action.
After bagging a brace in the club’s previous victory against OKC Energy FC, it now seems as though the scoring mantle that has been passed at varying points this season between Santi Moar, Kevaughn Frater and Chris Wehan has landed on Sandoval’s shoulders. Having been held without a goal in the league since June 5’s 1-1 draw at home to Energy FC prior to the club’s visit to Taft Stadium, the floodgates are finally opening after 12 games and 27 total shots that had seen him held off the scoreboard.
“In the weeks leading up to Oklahoma City, a lot of us were just knocking on the door, and it was just a matter of time before [we scored],” said Sandoval. “For me, it was just a matter of staying focused and not getting down on the fact that I hadn’t scored – just staying hungry and ready.”
New Mexico United's Devon Sandoval provided plenty for the club's supporters - joined by principal owner Peter Trevisani - to cheer about after an almost two-hour weather delay on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
Not that it was all smooth sailing against a Switchbacks side that could have written a different ending. You couldn’t have received a clearer indication of the bad luck that has certainly not helped Colorado Springs’ cause this season from the moment that saw Saeed Robinson and Fernando Gonzalez hit each post within a matter of seconds 11 minutes before halftime, chances that had one found the net would have leveled the match.
Instead, it was Sandoval’s clinical finishing that decided the contest. A pair of second-half goals off assists by Manny Padilla – the third a beautiful flicked header into the left corner of the net with 24 minutes remaining that completed Sandoval’s first hat trick in the pro ranks – opened New Mexico’s four-game home stand, and a run of six games our of seven at Isotopes Park to close the regular season in ideal fashion for players and fans alike.
“The win in Oklahoma City kind of galvanized the team in a big way going into this final stretch of the year. We have plenty of home matches ahead of us,” said Lesesne. “We needed three points tonight and we did it.”